PART 3 discusses how owning a pet improves your mental health. Pets get you out into the human world, help you work through mental afflictions, and, as you get older, help you stay cognitively sharp. Here is a short list of some of the ways owning a pet helps us be mentally sharper
- They make you more social. Pets give you an excuse to get out, get moving, and talk to people. Most people have strong emotions about their pets and sharing that with fellow pet lovers creates an instant sense of community.
- Dog parks, pet daycare centers, and online pet forums can give people an outlet to connect with others.
- Pets can lead their owners to forging new bonds with fellow human beings. In this way, pets help banish feelings of loneliness in more ways than one.
- Pets provide forms of therapy. Research done on kids with autism show they are able to be more social and less anxious when they have therapy animals nearby. And as the bond grows between a pet and a child on the autism spectrum, the child becomes better at sharing with others and offering comfort to those in need—when compared to similarly-afflicted children who don’t have a pet in the house.
- For kids with ADHD, caring for a pet can help the child learn to plan ahead and schedule things like daily feedings. Getting outside and playing with a dog can also help an ADHD-afflicted child burn off extra energy, which helps them focus later in the day.
- For those with PTSD, grooming and riding horses has been found to lessen their stress.
- Pets ease the struggle of addiction recovery. Addiction experts increasingly are suggesting their patients get service dogs. One reason is that pets help you stay in the here and now. This mindfulness engages your prefrontal cortex—the part of the brain responsible for executive function. The more that part of the brain is activated, the more you are able to make healthy choices and develop good habits. In other words, having a pet can help you replace negative, destructive habits with positive ones.
- Dogs help boost cognition in seniors. In older adults, having a pet—a dog, in particular—can help keep memory and other mental functions intact longer. A study by the University of Richmond found that dog owners over the age of 65 performed better on cognitive and memory tests than those their age who didn’t own a dog. Some theorize this is because dogs keep you physically active, plus you have to remember to provide care in the form of daily tasks: feeding, walking, and playing.
The research is pretty clear that pets can improve your overall health. With all the benefits of having a pet—to your health and your life—it’s no surprise so many people view them as essential member of the family.